Page 1

BUYNOW


History of Sailing.indd 2

28/04/2016 12:00


BARRY PICKTHALL

A HISTORY OF

SAILING IN 100 OBJECTS

History of Sailing.indd 3

28/04/2016 12:00


Adlard Coles Nautical An imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc 50 Bedford Square London WC1B 3DP UK

1385 Broadway New York NY 10018 USA

www.bloomsbury.com www.adlardcoles.com ADLARD COLES, ADLARD COLES NAUTICAL and the Buoy logo are trademarks of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc First published 2016 Š Barry Pickthall 2016 This electronic edition published in 2016 by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc Barry Pickthall has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as Author of this work. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publishers. No responsibility for loss caused to any individual or organization acting on or refraining from action as a result of the material in this publication can be accepted by Bloomsbury or the author. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. Library of Congress Cataloguing-in-Publication data has been applied for. ISBN: HB: 978-1-4729-1885-7 ePDF: 978-1-4729-1887-1 ePub: 978-1-4729-1886-4

Bloomsbury Publishing Plc makes every effort to ensure that the papers used in the manufacture of our books are natural, recyclable products made from wood grown in well-managed forests. Our manufacturing processes conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin. To find out more about our authors and books visit www.bloomsbury.com. Here you will find extracts, author interviews, details of forthcoming events and the option to sign up for our newsletters.

History of Sailing.v2.indd 4

28/04/2016 17:39


Introduction

The oldest boat ever discovered is the Pesse canoe, a dugout made from pine thought to date back to 8200 BC, and undoubtedly powered by paddles. It seems to have taken another 3000 years for the Mesopotamians and Ancient Egyptians to come up with the concept of using the wind to propel their craft. Sailing boats became the means to transport goods and people across oceans and between trading empires. They also enabled warring powers to undertake campaigns at sea as well as on land. And as boatbuilders and mariners became more skilled, sailing boats became ever more sophisticated and complex. Although arranged chronologically, this book is not a history of the sailing boat. Rather it looks at a number of items and events that have marked a turning point in technological development or human achievement at sea. There are plenty of ships and smaller craft, from the superb lines of the Viking warship at Oseberg to the equally magnificent – but disastrous – Swedish ship, Vasa and the clipper ships

Ann McKim and Cutty Sark, that bookmark their era to dinghies from the tiny Optimist to the first planing dinghies such as the International 14 Avenger. Other objects included are far smaller but equally crucial in the development of sailing, from the cross staff, astrolabe and sextant that allowed increasingly sophisticated navigation, to the radar and GPS that followed and now allow sailors to pinpoint their position with great precision. Significant turning points in more workmanlike items such as blocks, sails and spars are also covered. This broad approach allows for an eclectic range of ‘objects’ to be included. So while a lemon may seem an eccentric inclusion, the essential role of citrus fruit in combating the scourge of scurvy on long voyages is undisputed. Other objects such as scrimshaw, grog and the sou’wester all shine a light on the changing lives of sailors. Essentially though, this book is a celebration of sailing, the boats in which we sail and the people who sail them. We hope you enjoy it.

History of Sailing.indd 5

28/04/2016 12:00


Contents 1 : Naqada II pot, 3,500 BC. ..................................................................... 12 2 : BC Wadi Gawasis ships, 1,800.............................................................. 14 3 : Pharos of Alexandria (the first lighthouse), 280 BC........................................ 16 4 : Oseberg Viking longship, 846 AD........................................................... 18 5 : Bosun’s pipe, 1248.. ......................................................................... 20 6 : Carta Pisana, 1270.......................................................................... 22 7 : Cross staff, 1342............................................................................. 24 8 : Porthole, 1490.............................................................................. 26 9 : Hammock, 1492............................................................................ 28 10 : Mary Rose, 1511............................................................................ 30 11 : Earrings, 1570.............................................................................. 32 12 : Astrolabe, 1608............................................................................ 34 13 : Vasa warship, 1628.. ....................................................................... 36 14 : Barometer, 1643.. .......................................................................... 38 15 : Catamaran, 1662........................................................................... 40 16 : Cat o’ nine tails, 1695...................................................................... 42 17 : Jolly Roger, 1700.. .......................................................................... 44 18 : Ship’s wheel, 1703.......................................................................... 46 19 : Neva Yacht Club (the world’s first yacht club), 1718....................................... 48 20 : Grog, 1740................................................................................. 50 21 : Scrimshaw – whaling, 1745................................................................ 52 22 : Naval uniforms, 1748...................................................................... 54 23 : The Female Soldier by Hannah Snell, 1750................................................ 56 24 : Royal Hospital Haslar – first naval hospital, 1753......................................... 58 25 : Sextant, 1757............................................................................... 60 26 : Square plates, 1758. ....................................................................... 62

History of Sailing.indd 6

28/04/2016 12:00


27 : Lloyd’s Register of Ships, 1760............................................................. 64 28 : Cork lifejacket, 1765.. ...................................................................... 66 29 : Tattoos, 1769.. ............................................................................. 68 30 : Harrison’s marine chronometer, 1775..................................................... 70 31 : Daggerboard, 1776......................................................................... 74 32 : Hurricane lamp, 1780.. .................................................................... 76 33 : Ship in a bottle, 1784.. ..................................................................... 78 34 : Lemon, 1795.. .............................................................................. 80 35 : USS Constitution, 1797..................................................................... 82 36 : Boathook, 1800............................................................................ 84 37 : Portsmouth Block Mills, 1802.. ............................................................ 86 38 : Cloud names, 1803.. ....................................................................... 88 39 : Beaufort scale, 1805....................................................................... 90 40 : Liquid compass, 1813...................................................................... 92 41 : Fresnel lens lighthouse, 1823. ............................................................. 94 42 : Telegraph, 1832............................................................................ 96 43 : Ann McKim (first clipper ship), 1833...................................................... 98 44 : Navigation lights, 1836.. ................................................................. 100 45 : Sou’wester, 1837.......................................................................... 102 46 : The Fighting Temeraire by J M W Turner, 1838........................................... 104 47 : Two Years Before the Mast by R H Dana, 1840.. .......................................... 106 48 : Cup anemometer, 1846................................................................... 108 49 : Signal flares, 1848........................................................................ 110 50 : Concrete boat, 1848.. ...................................................................... 112 51 : America’s Cup, 1851........................................................................ 114 52 : Signal flags – International Code of Signals, 1857......................................... 118

History of Sailing.indd 7

28/04/2016 12:00


53 : Spinnaker, 1865........................................................................... 120 54 : Cutty Sark , last of the great clippers, 1869............................................... 122 55 : Walker speed log, 1876.. .................................................................. 124 56 : Fin keel, 1880............................................................................. 126 57 : Sea anchor, 1887.......................................................................... 128 58 : Colin Archer rescue boat, 1892. .......................................................... 130 59 : Binoculars, 1893........................................................................... 132 60 : Yachting World – oldest continously published sailing magazine, 1893.. ............... 134 61 : Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum, 1900.. .............................. 136 62 : Sheet winch, 1903........................................................................ 138 63 : Radar, 1904............................................................................... 140 64 : Wykeham Martin roller furling gear, 1907.............................................. 142 65 : Bluenose, historic schooner, 1921......................................................... 144 66 : Avenger, first planing dinghy, 1928.. .................................................... 146 67 : Alloy mast, 1930.. ........................................................................ 148 68 : Dorade yacht and box, 1930.............................................................. 150 69 : Coastal Quick Release (CQR) anchor, 1933................................................. 152 70 : Popeye the Sailor Man, 1933.............................................................. 154 71 : Boat shoes, 1935........................................................................... 156 72 : Trapeze, 1936............................................................................. 158 73 : Marine plywood, 1939.................................................................... 160 74 : Kon-Tiki, 1947............................................................................. 162 75 : Optimist dinghy, 1947.................................................................... 164 76 : Sunfish dinghy, 1947..................................................................... 166 77 : Terylene/Dacron sails, 1952.. ............................................................. 168

History of Sailing.indd 8

28/04/2016 12:00


78 : The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, 1952................................... 170 79 : Airfix model of Golden Hind, 1954........................................................ 172 80 : VHF radio, 1960s.......................................................................... 174 81 : Henri Lloyd sailing jacket, 1963. ......................................................... 176 82 : Breton/Portland course plotter, 1964.. ................................................... 178 83 : Perspex dome/Éric Tabarly, 1964......................................................... 180 84 : Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, 1968/9............................................... 182 85 : First sailing hydrofoil, 1969.............................................................. 184 86 : Windsurfer, 1970......................................................................... 186 87 : WEST system epoxy, 1970................................................................ 188 88 : Sunsail flotilla – the first flotilla charter, 1975. ......................................... 190 89 : Freeze-dried food, 1977................................................................... 192 90 : Argos/EPIRB distress system, 1978.. ..................................................... 194 91 : Assent Fastnet survivor, 1979............................................................ 196 92 : Colt Cars – the first carbon fibre vessel, 1982. ........................................... 198 93 : Solar shower bag, 1980s.................................................................. 200 94 : Australia II yacht, 1983.. ................................................................. 202 95 : Crédit Agricole /Open 60 yacht, 1983..................................................... 206 96 : Dyneema® rope, 1990.................................................................... 208 97 : GPS, 1990................................................................................. 210 98 : Father’s Day: smallest boat to cross the Atlantic, 1993.. ................................. 212 99 : Camcorder, 2001. ........................................................................ 214 100 : GoPro camera, 2006.................................................................... 216 Index.......................................................................................... 218 Picture credits................................................................................. 224

History of Sailing.indd 9

28/04/2016 12:00


10

History of Sailing.indd 10

28/04/2016 12:00


History of Sailing.indd 11

28/04/2016 12:00


1 : Naqada II pot 3,500

W

bc

ho invented the sail? We’ll probably never

carefree image of a boat sailing across water,

know for sure, but there’s a simple dynamic

presumably a river, with the check pattern at the top

that puts Egypt at the top of the list of candidates for

portraying a riverbank. The boat carries a square

this honour. And it all comes down to gravity. It was

sail, so it would only ever be any use for going

the life-giving force of the River Nile that created

downwind, but nevertheless ideal for sailing back

one of the world’s most advanced civilisations in

up the Nile after a visit up north, or for carrying

Ancient Egypt. Archaeological evidence suggests

produce to a market further upriver.

that the Egyptians may have used boats to navigate

Historians are undecided about when the Ancient

that river in at least 4000 BC, and probably much

Egyptians switched from reed to wooden boats, or

earlier. But like all rivers, the Nile flows only one

indeed whether they were building both types all

way: pulled by gravity to the sea. So while the

along. Judging by the position of this boat’s sail, the

Egyptians would have had a swift ride north, to the

boat is likely to have been of wooden construction,

Mediterranean, it would have been heavier going

since a reed hull wouldn’t have taken the strains of a

heading south, inland, against the current.

sail placed so close to an end. Also, this boat’s hull

Happily, the gods that created this beautiful oasis

shape is asymmetrical; reed boats are, by definition,

also devised a solution to this problem and arranged

symmetrical and shown as such in most

for the prevailing wind to come from the north. The

contemporary images, so we therefore have to

early navigators just had to ride this current going

assume that the depiction on the Naqada II pot is of

north, and stick up a palm leaf to let the wind blow

a wooden boat.

them back south. Palm leaves were eventually

Whole fleets of boats have been discovered carved

replaced with cloth, and thus the first sail was

in rocks at Nag el-Hamdulab in southern Egypt

(probably) born.

(3200–3100 BC), and a square sail is clearly portrayed

Many depictions of boats have been found in the

on an incense burner found in Nubia (3200–3000

area, including the 2004 discovery of a half-boat

BC). But the boat shown on the Naqada II pot is in a

painted on a granite pebble in around 7000 BC,

class of its own. Depicted for its own sake, rather

thought to be the oldest image of a boat in the world.

than as a detail in a bigger picture, it gives us our

But the first clear depiction of a sail is on the Naqada

first sense of the pleasure and excitement of sailing

II pot, painted in Egypt in the late Predynastic period

that would capture future generations of sailors and

around 3600–3250 BC. It’s a wonderfully loose,

turn it into a worldwide sport.

12

History of Sailing.indd 12

28/04/2016 12:00


On the Naquada II pot, the boats have palm branches at the prow and what appear to be oars at the bottom with two cabins on the deck. Each cabin has a female figure flanked by smaller male figures – possibly representing a goddess and her priests.

1 : N A Q A D A R I I P O T, 3 ,5 0 0

History of Sailing.indd 13

bc

28/04/2016 12:00


2 : The ships of Wadi Gawasis 1,800

T

bc

he Egyptian female pharaoh Hatshepsut reigned

depot for trading ships heading south. The timbers

(or, strictly speaking, co-reigned) for 15 years

contained shipworms only found at sea, advancing

between c.1473–1458 BC, during which she re-

the theory that the vessels had been on a journey of

established several trade routes and with the

approximately six months – about the time it would

resulting wealth, ordered the construction of more

take to sail to the Horn of Africa and back.

buildings and statues than any of her predecessors.

No one is implying these are the remains of the

One of her most celebrated achievements was an

actual ships that took part on that fabled expedition,

expedition to the Land of Punt in about 1490 BC,

but they are certainly their direct contemporaries,

where she bought gold, ivory, incense and myrrh

making them the oldest remains of sea-going ships

trees and returned them to Egypt, supposedly the

anywhere in the world. Older boats have been

first time trees had been transported from one

discovered, but they are all of smaller craft, such as

country to another. The 2,000-mile (3,218km) round

canoes and rafts. Suddenly, a story from 3500 years

trip is described in detail in carved reliefs on the

ago deduced from descriptions and circumstantial

walls of Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple at Deir

evidence was given physical substance. It was

el-Bahari, on the west bank of the Nile, and includes

almost as if the mythological land of Atlantis had

images of the five ships she took with her.

finally been discovered.

Hatshepsut’s expedition to the Land of Punt is

A French television company saw the potential,

probably the first nautical voyage depicted in art,

commissioning a team of archaeologists and a naval

and it soon acquired a semi-mythical status – all the

architect to recreate the original voyage in ships

more, since no one could agree on the actual location

built to the same designs of the day, an amalgam of

of Punt, although it is assumed to have been on the

the craft depicted in Hatshepsut’s mortuary and the

Horn of Africa, in modern-day Eritrea or Yemen.

remains found at Wadi Gawasis. The 66ft (30m)-long by 16ft (4.9m)-wide vessel, Min of the Desert , was

Then, in 2005 the remains of a shipyard of that era were discovered near the Red Sea. Ship’s timbers,

launched in October 2008 and set sail across the Red

coils of rope, anchors and cargo boxes were

Sea. Unlike its historic predecessor, its journey was

unearthed at six man-made caves at Wadi Gawasis,

cut short after just 150 miles (241km) due to political

near Port Safaga on the Red Sea. Hieroglyphs on

tensions and the danger of piracy. As such, Min of

several boxes indicated that they came from the

the Desert never left Egyptian waters. Hatshepsut

Land of Punt, suggesting the site was also used as a

would not have been impressed.

14

History of Sailing.indd 14

28/04/2016 12:00


Wall art depicting Egyptian ships and soldiers on the expedition to the Land of Punt. They are found in the Temple of Hatshepsut, dating from c. 1490 bc, 18th Dynasty, New Kingdom, Deir el-Bahari, Egypt.

2 : WA D I G AWA SIS SHIP S, 1 , 80 0

History of Sailing.indd 15

bc

28/04/2016 12:00


3 : The Pharos at Alexandria 280

T

bc

he use of lights as aids to navigation goes back

tier, topped by a 15ft (5m) octagonal storey. This in

as far as the eighth century BC, with references

turn supported an 85ft (26m) cylindrical tier with

to beacons lit on hilltops to guide ships appearing in

the fire at the top. It was a masterpiece of

Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. But the first-known

engineering, with metal used to reinforce the huge

lighthouse, the Pharos of Alexandria, in Egypt, was

blocks of stone. To keep the brazier burning, workers

completed in 280 BC. Its architect, Sostratus of

carried wood up a spiral ramp within the building.

Cnidus, began the project during the reign of the

The Pharos lighthouse outlasted many of the

Macedonian ruler Ptolemy I Soter and it was

other ancient wonders, eventually succumbing to an

finished under the watchful eye of Soter’s son,

earthquake sometime during the 14th century.

Ptolemy II.

In 1994, French archaeologist Jean-Yves Empereur

Standing at 350ft (107m) high, the lighthouse was

was commissioned to chart the area prior to the

second only to the pyramids of Giza as the tallest

construction of a concrete breakwater. He discovered

manmade structure of ancient times. Taking its

hundreds of huge masonry blocks and statues,

name from the island on which it was built, the

including a sculpture thought to depict Ptolemy II

lighthouse was regarded by the ancient Greeks as

dating back to the third century BC. Work on the

one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It was

concrete breakwater was abandoned and the area

certainly a technological triumph.

was instead turned into an underwater park, where

The lighthouse was constructed in three stages: a

scuba divers can now explore the lighthouse’s relics

square base that supported a 100ft (30.5m) square

and remains.

16

History of Sailing.indd 16

28/04/2016 12:00


The Pharos lighthouse was believed to have been built in three stages. The lowest part was square, the next octagonal, and the top cylindrical. The top was reached via a wide spiral ramp where a fire was lit at night.

3 : THE FIRST LIGHTHOUSE, 280

History of Sailing.indd 17

bc

28/04/2016 12:00


4 : Oseberg Viking longship 846

F

ad

or 300 years the Vikings terrorised Northern

silently into enemy territory under cover of night.

Europe. They attacked coastal towns across

Nowhere was beyond their reach (some Vikings even

Germany, France, England and Ireland, and made

carried their ships across land to reach their next

forays into the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

target), and they almost always arrived without

And it wasn’t just the occasional rogue Viking

warning. And, once they had seized whatever they

heading off to fill his coffers – some 600 Viking

wanted, the invaders could load their ships with loot

ships attacked Hamburg in AD 845, and later that

and set off, safe in the knowledge that no one could

year another 130 poured up the Seine River in France.

catch up with them.

Viking groups settled as far afield as Iceland and

Several surviving Viking longships have been

probably landed in America some 500 years before

discovered, but the jewel in the crown is the

Columbus got there.

Oseberg. Found by a Norwegian farmer on his land to the west of the Oslofjord, this 70ft ‘karv’ was

The reason for their success? Their boats, or longships, were formidable instruments, far superior

wider and lower than the longships engaged in

to any other vessels in existence at the time. Usually

warfare, suggesting it was used either for carrying

made from solid oak with long, overlapping planks

cargo or ceremonial purposes. The forward stem is

sweeping up dramatically at either end, longships

decorated from the keel upwards with intricate

were a world away from the lumbering vessels the

relief carvings of animals and topped by a snake’s

rest of Europe was still plodding around in.

head, a full 16ft (4.9m) high. Whatever the ship’s original purpose, it ended its

Longships were lightweight fantasies, the construction of which should not have been possible

active service as a coffin in a classic Viking burial;

with the tools and materials available at the time,

the remains of two women were found inside the

making them a testament to the great skill and

boat, one around 70–80 years old, the other around

imagination of Scandinavian boatbuilders.

50. Their corpses were surrounded by personal effects, including tapestries, clothes, shoes and

On the water, longships were like overgrown dinghies, skimming over waves rather than

combs, as well as practical objects, such as kitchen

crashing through them like most other European

utensils and farming equipment. There were also

vessels. They were seaworthy enough to cross the

four sledges, five beds, two tents, 15 horses, six dogs

open oceans at 12 knots and yet shallow enough to

and two small cows. Everything they needed for the

land on any beach and sneak up any river, rowed

next life.

18

History of Sailing.indd 18

28/04/2016 12:00


The Oseberg ship is housed near Oslo in a crossshaped building with two other longships. Visiting them can feel like an almost spiritual experience.

4 : O S E B E R G V I K I N G L O N G S H I P, 8 4 6

History of Sailing.indd 19

ad

28/04/2016 12:00


5 : Bosun’s pipe 1248

T

he bosun’s pipe, or boatswain’s whistle, was the

piece of metal (the keel) beneath the gun and the key

method first used by England’s Royal Navy to

ring (the shackle), which connects a long silver or

signal specific orders to a ship’s crew above the

brass chain that sits around the player’s collar when

sounds of the sea and gunfire. Blown by the

in ceremonial uniform. The pipe whistle is now used

boatswain, the pipe consists of a narrow tube (the

as a traditional bugle call to ‘pipe’ aboard flag-rank

gun) that directs air over a metal sphere – the buoy,

officers and important guests, as well as mark

which has a hole in the top – over which the player

Evening Colours. It is the official badge of the

opens and closes his/her hand to change the sound’s

quartermaster, chief boatswain’s mate and

pitch. The remainder of the pipe consists of a flat

boatswain’s mate in many navies around the world.

COMMANDS HAUL Warship crews were not allowed to sing, so the pipe

PIPE DOWN Dismissal of all the crew not on watch.

was used to coordinate the sailors. The low note signals a

SWEEPERS End of the working day. Ostensibly sailors

pause and is preparatory, and the high note for pulling on

would ‘sweep up’ in preparation for departure the

the line.

following day.

THE SIDE OR AWAY GALLEY This goes back to the tradition

PIPE TO ANY MEAL Pipe all hands, followed by long heave

of hoisting officers aboard ship in a chair. It is a

around (mess gear), and long pipe down.

combination of haul and a command to lower, and

STILL Used to call the crew to attention when two

remains in use as an honour bestowed upon officers when

warships passed each other, and the crew of the junior

embarking or disembarking.

ship salutes the senior ship.

AWAY BOATS Orders a ship’s boats to leave the ship’s side.

CARRY ON Used after the still, to dismiss the crew back to

Call the boatswain’s mates: Boatswain’s gang to report.

their duties.

ALL HANDS ON DECK The entire crew to assemble on deck.

GENERAL CALL Piped before an announcement.

Word to be passed: Command for silence, an order

OFFICER OF THE DAY Calls the Officer of the Day to the

to follow.

gangway.

20

History of Sailing.indd 20

28/04/2016 12:00


The bosun’s pipe is also sometimes referred to as the ‘bosun’s call’. The form of the whistle has remained very similar since it was first invented in the 13th century.

5 : BOSUN’S PIPE, 1248

History of Sailing.indd 21

28/04/2016 12:00


6 : Carta Pisana 1270

I

t looks somewhat reminiscent of a geometric

The Carta Pisana is both simple and remarkably

doodle drawn on an old tea towel and, at first

accurate. Digital analysis of the chart, which was

sight, this 740-year-old piece of hide is pretty

used to transpose it over a modern map of the region

incomprehensible. Look more closely though, and

portrayed, showed an overall error in scale of just 1.4

you will see the first ‘inside out’ view of Europe, for

per cent (excluding the Atlantic Coast and the Black

the Carta Pisana is the first-known maritime chart,

Sea). The area portrayed with the greatest error is

drawn from the point of view of the sea rather than

the Adriatic, which was drawn 7.3 per cent larger

the land. In fact, it’s of no use to the land traveller,

than it actually is. Exclude that too, and the chart

since only coastal points are marked and the

has only a 1.1 per cent error in scale. Less impressive

landmasses themselves are notably inaccurate.

is the orientation of the chart, which needs to be

For the sea traveller, however, the chart is

rotated 9.6 degrees anti-clockwise to be accurate.

instantly usable. Give a copy to a sailor and using a

The exact origins of the Carta Pisana are not

pair of parallel rules, he/she will be able to read off a

known, although as its name suggests, the chart

course between any of the almost 1,000 ports named

was found in Pisa and is almost certainly Italian,

without the slightest trouble. For this maritime

coming either from Genoa, Venice or Pisa itself.

masterpiece is a portolan chart, from the Italian

Given the concentration of names in the Tyrrhenian

portolano, or ‘relating to ports’, the forebear of all

Sea, it seems likely that it was in fact drafted in

later nautical charts.

Genoa. The exact age is unknown, though it’s

Its only purpose is to chart the relative position of

generally accepted that it must be between 1258,

the ports and the distances between them – there’s

when the port of Manfredonia was founded, and

no attempt to depict the areas’ topography, and even

1291, when the port of Acre fell to Muslim forces (a

the shapes of the landmasses are relatively

cross is drawn by its name). The final piece of

unimportant. The star-shaped grids represent the 16

evidence comes with the first mention of such a

points of a basic compass (north, north-east by

detailed chart, on a Genoese ship in 1270.

north, north-east, etc.) and allow the course to be

During the 17th century, sea charts based on the

read off anywhere on the chart – just like a compass

Mercator projection replaced the portolan. The Dutch

rose on later successors. The smaller circles at top

dominated chartmaking in the early years, followed

and right are scales, which allow the navigator to

by France and Great Britain, which set up

read off distances.

hydrographic offices in 1720 and 1795 respectively.

22

History of Sailing.indd 22

28/04/2016 12:00


The Carta Pisana is one of around 180 nautical charts that have survived from the period 1200–1400 and virtually nothing before that is recorded. It seems that ancient navigators such as the Phoenicians may well have made charts or sketches in the course of navigation but since they were considered ‘instruments’ for the trip in progress, may have not deemed them worthy of preservation.

6 : C A R TA P I S A N I , 1 2 7 0

History of Sailing.indd 23

28/04/2016 12:00


7 : Cross staff 1342

T

he cross staff, or Jacob’s staff, preceded the

the angle of the Sun was then read on the graduated

astrolabe and sextant as a method for

staff. The accuracy of the instrument was largely

determining latitude and maintaining a course

down to the length of the staff, and the larger ones

along a line of latitude, which is known as latitude

were found to be too unwieldy.

sailing. European navigators used it extensively

For his second design, Davis placed the shadow

during the Age of Discovery, succeeding the Kamal,

vane on a transom, which could be moved along a

used by Arab navigators since the time of Sinbad.

graduated scale to indicate the angle of the shadow

Made of wood, the cross staff measures the angle

above the staff. This instrument was perfected in

between the horizon and a celestial body by moving

the mid-1600s when the quadrant arc was split into

the scale along the staff until both are aligned on

two parts and a smaller radius arc, with a span of 60

opposite sides of the vane. This proved difficult to do

degrees, was mounted above the staff with a second

from the deck of a moving vessel, and the cross staff

arc, with a span of 30 degrees, mounted below. A

was eventually replaced by the backstaff.

moveable sight vane was mounted on the lower arc,

Captain John Davis invented his version of the

thus giving the navigator the ability to accurately

backstaff in 1594 in an effort to improve the cross

align two line segments. This became known as the

staff’s accuracy when used at sea. His first quadrant

English backstaff.

staff had an arc that slid along the staff. The

In a later modification the shadow vane was

navigator looked along the staff and observed the

replaced by a Flamsteed glass lens, which was able

horizon through a slit in the horizon vane. By sliding

to project a much brighter image of the Sun onto the

the arc so that the shadow aligned with the horizon,

horizon vane.

24

History of Sailing.indd 24

28/04/2016 12:00


An illustration of a Jacob’s staff in use, taken from John Sellers’ Practical Navigation, published in 1672.

7 : C R O S S S T A F F, 1 3 4 2

History of Sailing.indd 25

28/04/2016 12:00


8 : Porthole 1490

P

ortholes are essentially just round windows, so

fitted them to Henry VIII’s warship Henry Grace à

they may not seem much of a milestone in the

Dieu in 1515. The Portuguese say King John II came up

history of sailing. But the technology needed to cut a

with the idea when he fitted his caravels with heavy

large hole in the side of a boat and then seal it to

cannon in 1490. Other evidence suggests they may

prevent any water ingress is so demanding that no

have been in existence at the Siege of Rhodes in

one tried it for several thousand years. Indeed, so

1480. Most probably, like other timely inventions,

deep-rooted was the fear of springing a leak that

they were developed simultaneously in several

most sailors vehemently resisted any attempt to cut

countries. In any case, by the 1520s, gun ports were

holes in the sides of their boats – that is, until they

in general use and it would be only several decades

needed to win a war.

before the horrific destruction inflicted by ‘line of battle’ tactics – where ships literally lined up to fire

It was developments in cannon design that led to the invention of the first portholes (or gun ports).

broadsides at each other – would become the

Ships had been fitted with artillery since the

dominant strategy in naval warfare. Not that gun ports were without their problems.

beginning of the 14th century, but this usually consisted of small calibre weapons mounted on the

The Mary Rose (page 30) and the Vasa (page 36) were

fore and aft castle of the craft, which had only

just two of the better-known ships sunk when a

limited use, since the primary battle tactic was still

sudden wind heeled them over, causing water to

for military personnel to board an enemy ship and

come flooding in through their open ports. Once the concept of piercing a hull for guns had

engage in hand-to-hand combat.

been accepted, it was a small step to cutting holes

As large cannon began to dominate land battles, it became clear that they could play a similar role at

for ventilation and light. And so the porthole was

sea. But to carry the weight of such large weapons

invented. The term is thought to originate from the

without the ship becoming top heavy, cannon had to

French word porte, meaning ‘door’, which was

be placed low down, and that meant cutting holes in

corrupted into ‘porthole’. Unlike the original gun

(or ‘piercing’) the sides of the ship in order to create a

ports, most portholes are round, creating a stronger

space through which the cannons could fire.

structure less prone to rot. So ubiquitous are portholes today, it is hard to

There are many different theories about who invented the gun port. The French claim it was a

imagine a picture of a boat without a little line of

boatbuilder from Brest, François Descharges, who

circles inscribed on the hull.

26

History of Sailing.indd 26

28/04/2016 12:01


A brass-rimmed porthole set into the side of a wooden yacht. The opening mechanism is designed to provide a tight seal so that it does not let in water when the vessel is at sea.

8 : PORTHOLE, 1490

History of Sailing.indd 27

28/04/2016 12:01


BUYNOW

A History of Sailing in 100 Objects  

Did you ever wonder which civilisation first took to water in small craft? Who worked out how to measure distance or plot a course at sea? O...

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you